Towards the end of 2017, my younger cousin Pankaj had mentioned that he was planning to go to Ladakh on a motorcycle ride with his friends. I asked him to send his travel plan to me immediately. When I reviewed his plan, I realized the imminent risks in it and advised him to hold back. I told him that we will possibly go together, and called him and elder cousin Chandrakant to Mumbai around 26 January for discussions. In the meanwhile, two things greatly inspired the idea of motorcycle ride. First was the knowledge about Gaurav Jani and his One Crazy Ride documentary and the second one was a video on youtube: about motorcycle journey in Arunachal Pradesh.
Visit of Chandrakant & Pankaj to Thane
Pankaj and Chandrakant visited Thane from January 26 to January 28, 2018. We decided to go out for sightseeing in Mumbai and talk about the preparations upon return in the evening. This was Pankaj’s first experience with local trains, so we decided to take train from Thane to CSTM
Being the day of 26th January, India’s Republic Day, trains were running to holiday schedule and packed to the full limit. Since we started in the afternoon, we were sure that it will be night by the time we reach Nariman Point, Marine Drive etc. as we wanted to cover the Siddhivinayaka Temple first.
On 27 January, we spoke at length about our Ladakh tour. We talked about planning independently on our own or going through a travel agency. Discussion centered around the terrain, risks involved, weather unpredictability, altitude sickness, cost involved, mobile network connectivity, permits required and the political situation in Kashmir and experiences of other people.
We dropped the plan to go independently primarily for the following reasons
- Knowledge of the roads and poor mobile connectivity in cases of emergencies
- Management of vehicle breakdown on the route
- Non-availability of any local contacts
- Carrying of our luggage and fuel on the motorcycles (which we were not habitual to)
- All of us had the limit of absence at our respective offices
We agreed on going ahead with the plan, thinking that we may not get a second chance. We agreed that if we can be in Srinagar or Leh on 15th August, it will be best. We finally agreed on going through ROML as they had one plan starting on 12th August 2018 from Srinagar and I suggested that I will start finding out more details from ROML. Chandrakant proposed that we will all go together or none of us will go. Pankaj mentioned that he will check with one of his friends, who was willing to join.
Contacting the ROML Team
I then met one of my college friends at a get together. He told that he had done Ladakh ride long back and knew about Gaurav and team since then. After meeting my friend, it was almost certain that we will go with ROML. I spent some time browsing through ROML Website and the their SM2 (Srinagar – Leh – Manali) tour and detailed itinerary of the tour. By now, Pankaj confirmed that his friend Lalit Kataria will be joining us. I sent an e-mail to ROML mentioning the names of 6 of us.
While speaking with Gaurav, I asked several questions like which motorcycles will be used, what documents are required to be carried with, what happens if you are not able to ride, altitude sickness etc. Gaurav, answered every question. Gaurav told that ROML uses Royal Enfield Himalayan (RE Himalayan) motorcycles for the tour, which are purpose built for the terrain.
I then asked Gaurav to send in the account details to transfer the registration amount. We paid the registration amount and the tour was now in motion.I noticed that ROML team were quick to respond to e-mails, phone calls and answered several questions.
Image Courtesy (www.royalenfield.com)
Cancellation of Shilpa and Kundan’s Travel
With the booking amount paid, I immediately applied for 10-day leave starting from 10 August to 24 August. Half yearly exams of Kundan were to start from 29th August 2018. Next year being the 10th grade, the school was to start early and they had advanced the exam schedule by 2 weeks. Although we would have came back in time; Kundan would not have got enough time to prepare. All three of us were very disappointed to cancel the travel plan of Kundan and Shilpa. The idea behind taking Kundan with me was to make him aware of the culture, experience the adventure and the bravery of the Indian Armed Forces deployed in the region. ROML accommodated the cancellation request. So now finally we were only 4 ( Chandrakant , Pankaj, I and Lalit Kataria).
The itinerary of ROML’s SM-2 tour was as follows.
|D-1||13 Aug||Start of the tour with arrival in Srinagar, pre-ride briefing and riding practice|
|D-2||14 Aug||Srinagar to Kargil (220 KM / 8 Hours)|
|D-3||15 Aug||Kargil to Leh (220 KM / 8 Hours)|
|D-4||16 Aug||Rest & acclimatization in Leh|
|D-5||17 Aug||Leh to Pangong Tso via Chang La (160 KM / 8 Hours)|
|D-6||18 Aug||Pangong Tso to Sumur (Nubra Valley) (140 KM / 8 Hours)|
|D-7||19 Aug||Sumur to Leh via Khardung La (130 KM/ 6 Hours)|
|D-8||20 Aug||Leh to Sarchu (260 KM/ 10 Hours) via Taglang La|
|D-9||21 Aug||Sarchu to Tandi (120 KM / 6 Hours)|
|D-10||22 Aug||Tandi to Manali (100 KM / 5 Hours) via Rohtang La and end of the tour|
I wanted to spend some time in Srinagar, so we decided to reach Srinagar on 12 August. Additionally, I suggested staying back in Manali on the night of 22 August and traveling to Delhi from Manali on 23 August evening. This arrangement would allow Pankaj to see some of beautiful Manali.
Our accommodations for the tour were booked by ROML. So, we had to book the accommodation in Srinagar on 12 August and in Manali on 22 August. I relied on Trip Advisor to search the hotels. The next step was to book travel from Mumbai to Srinagar (12 August), Manali to Delhi (22 August) and Delhi to Mumbai (24 August). Pankaj and Chandrakant were to travel from Bhopal to Delhi on 11 August by train and reach around 6:30 AM on 12 August. I booked a 6:00 AM Mumbai – Delhi Indigo flight. An 11:00 AM SpiceJet flight from Delhi to Srinagar was booked by Chandrakant . I went ahead with booking the same flight.
Then I booked HPTDC Volvo bus on 23 August from Manali to Delhi for all four of us, and finally an Indigo flight from Delhi to Mumbai at 11:25 AM for me. Chandrakant and Pankaj were to stay back in Delhi for a day and return to Bhopal on an evening train. So now hotel, bus and flight bookings were sorted out.
Image courtesy (http://www.booking.hptdc.in/photogallery)
After the travel arrangements and registration for the ride the major thing was to see how I can get some riding practice. I decided to go to the RE Showroom near my home and take a test ride of a Classic 350 motorcycle. After the test ride I was fairly confident that I will be able to ride the motorcycle with a couple of hours of riding practice.
Then we shifted our focus to seeing videos on YouTube to understand about the road conditions and experiences shared by people, after seeing those videos (one at this link: https://www.youtube.com/v=l6uZVJXBAQs ) – everyone was scared 😊. I told Chandrakant and Pankaj that if we passed the test of Zoji La on our first day of ride, we will be through.
A lot of time we thought about purchasing waterproof shoes but finally, decided to carry two pairs of regular shoes. A lot of discussion happened around buying an action camera like a GoPro Hero. But we thought that it may not be wise to invest for 1 time use and secondly considering the safety aspects. One more item that took a lot of time to reach to an agreement was how many motorcycles we required. The decision was to be made between having a motorcycle for everyone or two motorcycles among 4 of us. We settled in favor of having two motorcycles, as we would have 2 backup riders in the event of other two being not able to ride for any reason.
Towards the end of June, we paid the remaining amount to ROML and the tour was now final. ROML team advised to carry quick dry T-shirts, considering possibilities of rains.
August started and ROML team shared the names and e-mail ids of other participants on the tour. I quickly formed a whatsapp group by the name of Ladakh Scouts and sent invitations to others to join in. I, Pankaj, Chandrakant and Lalit had our closed group to share information and documents etc. First to join the group was Baskar, then Rodney, Wayne, Michal, Sebastian and Teja joined. Teja joined just a couple of days before the tour.
Purchased all the essential medicines including Dimox for Altitude Sickness and visited our family physician to check if any vaccination like Tetanus is required. He ruled out any such requirement and mentioned that I will just be fine. All of us were eagerly waiting for 12th August now.